Marianne Chevreuse, the protagonist, is a wealthy young woman who enjoys living on her family estate in rural France. In her twenties, she is still unmarried and prefers spending her time riding her horse. Nevertheless, she contemplates future wedded bliss with her beloved, Pierre André, who instead has toward her a rather paternal affection, as he is her godfather. The plot advances as pressure builds for her to marry a suitable partner. Soon Philippe Gaucher, a young artist looking for a wealthy wife, turns up and begins to pursue Marianne. The central question becomes this: will she end up with either man, or will she remain unmarried?
Marianne, it is revealed, is both sensitive and level-headed. Philippe seems to her pretentious and insincere in his aesthete stance, and even while spending time with him, she actually resists his charms. Once he sees Philippe in action, however, Pierre realizes his true feelings for Marianne. As the two come together, the reader understands it as union of minds as well as hearts.
The twenty-five-year-old heroine, Marianne Chevreuse, represents the young George Sand as she might have been had she remained Aurore Dupin a few years longer, instead of rushing into marriage. Sand emphasizes the joys and pleasures of an unencumbered existence for an independent woman. Marianne’s country estate of Mortsang is very similar to Sand’s Nohant. Remaining unmarried, with her horse Suzon as her chief companion, Marianne is gaining the reputation of being a bit eccentric and too fond of solitude. In fact, she is in love with Pierre André, an old family friend who is also her godfather. In a situation typical of Sand, Pierre is so accustomed to Marianne that he cannot see that he loves her. Sand’s optimistic view of human nature requires that this common but usually insuperable situation must change.
Pierre is a man of considerable talent and abilities who utterly lacks self-confidence. Life has dashed his early unrealistic dreams, and on the brink of middle age he is about to resign himself to empty bachelorhood. Old school ties, however, lead to the arrival of Philippe Gaucher, a Parisian dandy, into Pierre’s life as an unwelcome houseguest. Gaucher is in search of a bride with a dowry, and Marianne has been recommended to him.
Jealousy plays a part in waking Pierre from his lethargy. Sand is at her most deft in delineating attractive, imaginative, worldly people who nevertheless fail to understand what is really important. The charming Gaucher, besides being a man of the world and a connoisseur of beauty, is a dilettante landscape painter. He drives Pierre to despair with his bold and poetic wooing of Marianne. Pierre warns Marianne that Gaucher is trying to compromise her, and he expresses surprise that Marianne never allows her old friend such liberties. In a conundrum typical of Sand, Marianne explains that she purposely never allows anything that would give rise to gossip about her and Pierre because she wants Pierre to be under no obligation to marry her. The excuse that Pierre would gladly have had for getting married, without admitting love, is removed.
Marianne is an artist in her own way, as expressed in her development of the park bordering her estate. She uses nature to create beauty. In her view, the dilettante Gaucher is deeply mistaken when he claims that because he is a painter, he sees the beauty of the countryside more clearly than those who actually live there. Marianne summarizes George Sand’s aesthetic credo when she...
(The entire section is 880 words.)